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Monday, October 20, 2008

Estimating Client Time on Projects

Received a very thought provoking question the other day in email and thought the concept was too good not to share, plus I'd like to get some feedback to see if I am on track.

The paraphrased question:
"Are there any estimation guidelines for determining the amount of client time required on an eLearning project. For example, if we estimate 300 hours on a project in terms of our efforts, should we expect the client to budget 30 hours or 10% of their time as their expected level of commitment? Should the number be higher or lower?"

My answer: depends.

If the client provides excellent documentation, detailed speaker notes and a step-by-step, indisputable process then 10% works well. However, I say the norm is closer to 30-40%. Here is why, often times e-learning is developed for a process that is not universally understood or applied. Then you get two Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in the mix and they disagree with the exact steps. Then the time explodes as they and others try to decide the "real" or "official" process.

Here is how it most often happens, you work with one person from the client's organization and that client signs off on everything until the end when they just have to show it to their boss or a representative from another department who wants to "just take a look" is just a formality...then chaos. The person disagrees with the steps, the content is not right and things need to be changed. Boom, the 10%of the time from the client team ballons and 3-4 or more people are involved and the time to completion goes up.


If detailed and universally agreed upon--10% for review, minor clarifications and normal correspondance.

20% if a little less detailed but not disputed. You sit with SME and she knows the exact steps and is the only authority on the process.

30% if really vague and obscure but their is some process in place and the disagreements are minor.

If gray and uncertain with major potential disagreement and disputes--40%

Typically amount is probably 30%

Your Input:

So what do you think? Does that sound right? Any input or comments. Is 30% right, are my assumptions accurate. What do you think?

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Taruna Goel said...

Hi Karl,

I agree with your assumption. While you have reflected more around the ‘maturity’ of the customer and how detailed and robust the process is – I am reflecting from a ‘content complexity’ angle. Additionally, I am looking at the client – as the client SME.

Typically in the web-based learning projects where I have estimated for SME time - it usually has been 50 - 80 hours of effort/hour of learning where the development effort is anywhere between 250 - 300 hrs/hr of learning. That would roughly be in the range of 20 - 32%. I am also coming from an experience of working on 'technology' training courses where most technologies are complex and/or new and expertise lies with a handful – mostly the client SMEs. However, if the content is not so complex and expertise is widespread, it is easier for the ID to be trained and we can attempt to reduce the SME time on the course. For example, consider a training program on MS Office Suite. The SME time in such a course may be negligible or to the extent of providing the ‘focus’ of the course as required by the client. So the entire engagement can work well even with a 10% SME effort. I guess whether the course content is tacit or explicit and whether the expertise is available with people other than the client SME – are other factors to be considered when estimating SME time on projects.

If I go a step further and reflect on the activities where this time is spent - I typically request for more time during initiation, analysis and design phases (to scope the content etc), lesser on review and query time during storyboarding (content development), and same time on review and feedback after the course has been integrated (including media etc). Some time is spent on weekly meetings planned through the project DLC. So, 30% sounds fairly real to me.

The training mode may also have an impact. I have observed that for a technology-related classroom training course, there may be more time required from the SMEs if any specific lab setup and scenario-based lab exercises need to be built within the training program. At those places, I have seen the SME time go upto 40%.

- Taruna Goel

Karl Kapp said...


Thanks for the great response. I think you bring up some really important points and considerations. I particularlly like your point about the process of having the ID learn the technology product (I am assuming software) and that it is often faster to have the ID develop the technology based training if the technology is not too complex.

I agree, often the SME goes into way too much detail about the ins and outs of the technology when all the designer needs are the basics for teaching a beginner.

Yes, if the ID can learn the technology, it greatly reduces the SME time requirements.

Thanks for a great comment! Taruna